August 16, 2022 at 5:31 p.m.
St. Leo’s Court of Foresters about serving, socializing
It was 125 years ago when the St. Leo’s Court of the Catholic Order of Foresters in New Munich was started and became an active church organization.
On Sunday, Aug. 21, members will celebrate this milestone starting with an 11 a.m. Mass at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in New Munich followed by a meal and a program.
Leo Olmscheid, an 86-year-member, recalled his younger years in the insurance-based organization Aug. 10, reminiscing with members Dorothy Rademacher and Jean Hopfer in the church basement, surrounded by St. Leo’s Court memorabilia. It included a record-keeping book where Olmscheid kept minutes when he was the secretary from the early 1950s-1993.
The New Munich court was organized Dec. 29, 1897, when the Rev. Leo Winter, OSB, was pastor; hence the name St. Leo’s Court, according to this history.
The existence of the COF was due to Thomas Taylor, an Irish immigrant, in Chicago. According to information from “The Spirit in Central Minnesota,” by the Rev. Vincent Yzermans, in the 1880s, Taylor thought in terms of mutual assistance to others in times of need. “On May 17, 1883, 42 men each put $1 in the organization – trusting they’d gain 1,000 men – intended to assure a $1,000 endowment when any member died. The order chose the image of a forester as a person who exemplified its purpose: a forester protects and preserves the woodlands for future generations and so the COF was instituted to protect the dependents of deceased members. It identified itself with the parish and served through spiritual and social programs.” The order was established in Minnesota in 1888.
People become members by paying insurance premiums. At first the organization was for men, but in 1936 juvenile boys were “written in,” said Olmscheid who became a member that year, after his parents paid for a policy for him when he was age six. By 1953 women were allowed to join.
Along with Olmscheid, Elmer Hoppe and Sylverius Sand are the oldest living St. Leo’s Court members.
St. Leo’s Court was an active organization with well attended regular meetings.
“We’d start meetings with a pony of beer and that continued for a long, long time,” Olmscheid said.
“And we’d have wieners and sauerkraut, and we still have that at every meeting,” Rademacher said.
“Dorothy brings the hotdogs and sauerkraut, and I bring the refreshments,” Hopfer said.
Meetings were held in the school because they couldn’t have meetings in the church, since there was no talking in church, Olmscheid said.
Memorabilia includes a 1956 photo of a meeting at the New Munich school, considered the largest initiation gathering of COF members in the state of Minnesota.
Olmscheid said old-time members could be strict and abided by rules. Members had to know the password to get into meetings, and they had to perform a certain handshake.
“There was an outdoor and indoor sentinel that you had to pass by to get in,” Hopfer said.
Members participated in activities, like card games, roller-skating, Christmas brunch, matching fund breakfast and a summer picnic, the latter two, which they still have today. Scholarships were also awarded. While many activities have fallen by the wayside, St. Leo’s Court continues to participate in a Join Hands Day community service and the Clothing God’s Children project, collecting and distributing winter clothes, and they donate to other causes. They honor dedicated members with awards and pray the rosary and are honor guards when members pass away.
“I’ve said many a rosary for Foresters when they died,” Olmscheid said.
St. Leo’s Court membership today is 416; 397 adults and 19 youth.
Olmscheid, who is a trustee along with Karen Rademacher and Victor Uphoff, enjoys the idea of belonging to an organization. For Hopfer, secretary since 1996, it is the idea of providing services to the community.
“I like the socializing,” said Rademacher, current chief ranger, a title similar to president of an organization.
Chances are there will be plenty socializing Sunday as St. Leo’s Court members gather together to celebration 125 years.